MORE NAVAL AID PROMISED BRITAIN IN ATLANTIC
By Lyle C. Wilson, United Press staff writer
Washington, Sept. 9 –
The State Department today announced the sinking of the Panamanian ship Sessa southwest of Iceland, coincident with warnings from London that Germany would force naval warfare on the United States and a statement here that Britain had been promised further American naval aid.
The Sessa was torpedoed Aug. 17 with a loss of 24 persons, including one American, of her complement of 27. The three survivors were picked up Sept. 6 by an American naval vessel.
Secretary of State Cordell Hull said at his press conference that the Sessa, while flying the flag of Panama, was owned and operated by American interests.
In response to inquiries, he said he thought there was no question about the author of the attack on the Sessa, but that he preferred not to discuss that phase of the situation until more complete facts were available.
The Sessa announcement followed by about 12 hours announcement that the American freighter Steel Seafarer had been sunk at 11:30 p.m., Sept. 5, at the entrance to the Gulf of Suez in the Red Sea. Capt. J. D. Halliday and the crew of 35 from the Steel Seafarer escaped in lifeboats after their vessel was hit by a bomb from an unidentified airplane. First reports said the vessel had been hit Sept. 7, but the Maritime Commission today fixed the earlier date.
That sinking followed by about 48 hours an encounter southwest of Iceland between the U.S. destroyer Greer and a German submarine in which the Greer’s officers reported that she counterattacked after torpedoes had been fired at her. Berlin charged that the Greer fired first.
These developments strengthened belief here that the Navy would meet force with force in American waters in challenge to any German effort to cut the British lifeline. President Roosevelt may outline the Navy’s responsibilities in the worldwide broadcast that was postponed from last night to Thursday because of the death of his mother.
Shortly before loss of the Sessa was announced, Prime Minister Winston Churchill told the House of Commons in London that Adolf Hitler might force naval warfare on the United States in an effort to cut off the broad stream of aid-to-Britain war supplies.
Senator Elbert D. Thomas (D-UT) told questions that the United States had pledged further naval aid to Great Britain following the Greer incident and that instructions had been sent to the American fleet.
Mr. Thomas explained:
Further American naval aid has already been promised as a result of the Greer incident. Our ships are out to find that submarine and if they run across another one they might mistake it.
The State Department announcement of the Sessa’s loss follows:
The State Department has been informed by the Navy Department that on Saturday morning, Sept. 6, the Navy picked up three surviving members of the crew of the SS Sessa, about 300 miles southwest of Iceland.
24 members of the crew are unreported and presumed lost.
The State Department was informed that the survivors stated the ship had been sunk by a torpedo on Aug. 17. There was an American citizen member of the crew. His name is lacking and he is not one of the survivors.
The names of the three survivors have not been furnished to the Department of State. The Sessa was a former Danish vessel which was acquired from the Danish government under authority of the recent law permitting taking over of idle foreign flag ships in American waters. The vessel was under Panama registry and was transporting supplies for the government of Iceland and owned by that government.
The cargo consisted of foodstuffs, cereals, lumber and other general cargo and did not include arms, ammunition or implements of war.
Cargo of the Steel Seafarer had not been revealed at midday, but the State Department said the Sessa was carrying foodstuffs, lumber and other general cargo, but no arms, ammunition or implements of war. The naval vessel which picked up the Sessa’s three survivors was not named. The Sessa was transporting for the government of Iceland supplies owned by that government.
Of the Steel Seafarer’s crew, 24 landed at Shadwan Island, 12 miles from the point of attack in the Gulf of Suez and 12 others were picked up from lifeboats by British ships. The Steel Seafarer sailed from New York July 18 for Suez, Egypt. The rescued crew and officers will proceed to Suez and thence to the United States as soon as possible.
May denounce sinking
Mr. Roosevelt is expected to denounce the sinkings as violations of our rights to freedom of the sea and an invasion of American waters which the Navy has undertaken to keep clear of raiders.
The Steel Seafarer was sunk in an area closed to American flag vessels on June 11, 1940, but reopened to them on April 11 of this year when Mr. Roosevelt concluded that the war between Great Britain and Italy in that part of the world had ceased to be actual war following the defeat of Italian forces in northeastern Africa. The order of April 11 opened the Red Sea to American flag vessels to the eastern end of the Suez Canal.
More than a score of American merchant ships soon went into the Red Sea trade bearing supplies for British forces in the Near East.
Three days before the Steel Seafarer went down, the Greer reported to the Navy Department that she had been attacked by an unidentified submarine and had counterattacked with depth charges but that results of the counterattack were unknown. Last Saturday, Berlin acknowledged that the submarine was German but insisted that the Greer had attacked first. Mr. Roosevelt told his press conference last Friday that the submarine inexcusably attacked first and more than once during daylight hours and at a time of good visibility. He said the Atlantic Fleet had been ordered to “eliminate” the attacker if possible.
Although the State Department did not attempt to identify the airplane which sank the Steel Seafarer, it was recalled that there had been Axis threats to sink any vessels which attempted to carry supplies to the British in the Near East.
Sinking of the Steel Seafarer gave new emphasis to Mr. Roosevelt’s emphatic Labor Day statement that war supplies to Great Britain and her allies must be “more greatly safeguarded.” It is believed that his Thursday broadcast may deal with some phase of that problem, especially in view of the loss of the first ship in the Red Sea lifeline.
Mr. Roosevelt appeared uncertain immediately after opening the Gulf of Aden at the mouth of the Red Sea to American vessels whether they would actually go into that trade. But 26 or more ships shortly were engaged in it and a Maritime Commission official told the United Press that American vessels had been carrying “a considerable amount of supplies” through the South Atlantic, up the east coast of Africa and to the Suez Canal at the head of the Red Sea.
On April 15, four days after opening the Red Sea by proclamation, Mr. Roosevelt told press conference questioners that defense of American merchant vessels operating outside actual combat zones was an obligation imposed by federal statute. He said it was a matter of law rather than of administration policy.
But at that time on the specific question of protecting American ships in the Red Sea, Mr. Roosevelt replied that he did not know of any of our ships in that area and had no information that any would go there in the relatively near future. He indicated, however, that American merchant ships would not be armed. Both the Isthmian Steamship Co. and the American Export Line subsequently entered the Red Sea trade largely, it is presumed, to supply British Near Eastern forces with war supplies.